$130,000 was distributed to the top performers in the NSIN Presents: Project STAPEL (Small Tactical Aerial Platforms for Extended Loitering) Challenge Demo Day

Urban Sky, a Colorado-based startup that has pioneered advances in stratospheric micro balloons, won first place and $50,000 in the NSIN Presents: Project STAPEL Challenge. The National Security Innovation Network challenge was held in partnership with the Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USAMDC) Space Prototyping and Experimentation Branch.

Urban Sky, along with six other finalist companies, showcased their innovations in mid-December at the Project STAPEL Demo Day held in Colorado Springs, Colo. The finalists were selected from a pool of 15 emerging companies following a virtual pitch day in November.

The challenge aimed to identify capabilities for a low-cost, air and/or ground launched medium- to high-altitude balloon capable of carrying payloads of at least 10 pounds. The solutions also needed to be able to be rapidly launched by one to two people.

“Stratospheric military superiority is at stake for the U.S. government and the warfighter,” said Andrew Antonio, Urban Sky Co-Founder and CEO. “Losing the battle to ‘gain the high ground’ in the stratosphere would be like losing the battle to maintain naval or air superiority. The stratosphere represents an exciting and valuable new operational airspace that is virtually untapped for military use-cases. (…) The stratospheric domain uniquely allows for low-cost, responsive, persistent, long-duration, and difficult-to-deter airborne C5ISR.”

Urban Sky builds low-cost remote-controlled balloons that take high-quality images and instantly transmits them to its operator. This technology already has shown immense potential in surveying disaster-stricken areas to inform emergency personnel of ever-changing conditions. The value for the warfighter is instantly clear as these types of balloons can provide important intel in austere locations.

Aerostar International won second place and $40,000. The South Dakota-based company, offers a similar offering, known as the Thunderhead Balloon System. These balloons leverage directional wind patterns at high altitudes, to offer groundbreaking capabilities for navigation and persistence over areas of interest.

Commit Technologies tied for third place with another competing vendor and won $20,000.

Commit Technologies created Apollo, a high-altitude platform that can travel 1,000 miles and deliver a 6-pound payload, while also collecting important surveillance data.

“The Department of Defense must continue to identify, assess, and demonstrate medium/high-altitude capabilities in support of emerging needs,” said Abigail Desjardins, NSIN Director of Enterprise Services and Venture Portfolio Director. “The innovations brought forward in challenges like this showcase emerging, or already commercially viable, technologies while making key connections between entrepreneurs and military leaders to solve current and future problems.”

As Antonio explained, participating in the NSIN competition spurred new conversations and possibilities.

“Project STAPEL afforded our company the opportunity to speak with several potential DoD end-users,” Antonio said. “In general, every conversation we had with DoD potential end-users and stakeholders during the program yielded new insights on what aspects of our system we needed to modify to access larger market potential within the DoD.”

About National Security Innovation Network

NSIN is a program office in the U.S. Department of Defense, nested within the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). We are set up to collaborate with a wide variety of innovators to include universities, researchers, students, entrepreneurs and start-ups. We create opportunities for collaboration across communities and connect those that might not traditionally work in national security. Together, we help drive national security innovation and develop technologies that directly support the individuals responsible for protecting our country.

For more information or interview requests with Team NSIN, please contact us at media@nsin.mil.